BMW Driving Experience. Click image to enlarge
Article by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and courtesy of BMW
Going sideways on snow is what the wowsers and anti-hoon whingebags would have you believe is the epitome of road-going evil. Did you know that every time someone turns off traction control three puppies and a bunny rabbit die?
No? That’s because they don’t. In fact, many of the people who learn to express themselves through some sideways vehicle action become more competent drivers – and that’s where BMW’s driver training program comes in.
With about an hour and a half of classroom theory and a whopping 6.5 hours of in-car driving lessons, BMW’s four skilled instructors hope to teach their students the skills of driving – especially as it relates to winter – which will save their hides in a crash.
And because, at heart, the driving instructors are all hoons, and because they’ve honed their skills with years of racing experience, and because BMW is all about the “ultimate driving experience”, you also get to learn how to go full-tilt sideways.
I’d hate to cut-and-paste from BMW here, but they did put it rather eloquently when they wrote on their website:
“The BMW Winter Driver Training course brings the fundamentals of confident, safe driving in winter conditions together in an exciting one-day course. Winter Driver Training covers key elements vital to improving winter driving, such as steering technique and vehicle dynamics. Exercises include emergency braking and avoiding, and front and rear wheel skid control (under- and oversteer).
The participants will experience handling of their car with and without the help of Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). In the afternoon exhilarating exercises like Forward and Backward 180 turns and Drifting will leverage the participants’ car control skills. To end the session, participants compete against each other in a snow autocross, utilizing the skills learned throughout the day.”
Or, if you want the Cliff’s Notes version as penned by yours truly:
“The BMW Winter Driver Training course teaches you to look ahead, anticipate, respond to your car and control your car in dangerous situations, by teaching you how to do mad skids on snow and then race around a course grinning like a complete idiot.”
BMW Driving Experience & Philippe Létourneau. Click image to enlarge
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Lead instructor Philippe Létourneau also spends time teaching us about useful concepts like seating position, seatbelt placement in winter (under your thick coat, not over it), and how to look ahead to maximize your reaction time. A former racer himself, Létourneau is also one of the educators on “Canada’s Worst Driver”, a television show that highlights just how woefully inadequate most licensing systems are.
Using as many jokes as he can, he explains that tires always have 100 percent of their grip, but that 100 percent is used for a variety of jobs. If you use 85 percent to brake, you only have 15 left to steer. Want to steer more? Brake less! Simple really. Of course, if your front brakes are locked, you’re not going to turn at all. ABS is useful for that, but pumping your pedal is not for a variety of reasons. One: You can’t pump your brake eight times a second individually for all four wheels like the car can; two: Each pump creates pitch and dive which further upsets the car; and three: Pumping your brakes to stop better was a technique taught back when cars had pathetic hydraulic systems that leaked, were weak, and needed pumping just to get them to work – that is not modern systems.
Enough theory, on to the practical lessons.
First is a slowish tootle around a slalom course all in a queue. The purpose of this is to get us used to the snow and the cars. We use two modes, Traction Mode with limited traction control, and the sportier DTC (dynamic traction control) mode where traction control is further disabled and engine response is improved.
On hand for the day were a suite of different BMW 435is. There were rear- and all-wheel drive models, some manual, and some automatic. We’d get a chance to drive all across the day.